Editing: Even Our Founding Fathers Did It

I used to hate editing papers in college.

I suspect that one of the reasons why I became an English teacher and tutor was that it allowed me to become so familiar with grammar and structure that I could write well enough my first go. The word “draft” was taboo to me.

I’d write papers ten pages or longer the morning they were due and not give them a second look. It just made my skin crawl to look over my work again.

Thankfully, since I’ve started writing my novel, I’ve slowly developed a fondness for editing. I’m not in love with it yet, but the frigid relationship editing and I had before is thawing to the point that I’ll revise a chapter a few times over before moving on.

What recently reinforced my admiration for editing is an unlikely source: The Declaration of Independence.

I hadn’t skimmed through my personal library in months–my Kindle has kept me busy–but three days ago one of my college texts caught my eye. It was from a constitutional law class I once took, and the text dealt with The Declaration of Independence, the context in which it was written, and the influences on the document’s writing.

What does this have to do with editing? Well, the text not only included the finished version of the Declaration but also Jefferson’s draft.

You’ve got to see this thing.

The draft is by no means terrible; it just had a very different feel to it because of what Jefferson had originally included. For example, Jefferson originally wrote an entire paragraph denouncing King George III for taking part in the slave trade, what Jefferson called “execrable commerce” and an “assemblage of horrors.” This sentiment is nowhere to be found in the final Declaration.

Along with the omissions above, many phrases were cut or rephrased for clarity.

So that got me thinking: if one of the most important documents in American and world history had to be edited a few times, why not my novel? If even the founding fathers, which many people hold in mystical regard, found a better way to express their grievances before they signed the Declaration, why can’t I? And these guys were excellent writers!

So, the next time you feel a bit bummed by having to edit and revise your work in progress, remember: even a document as important as the Declaration needed editing. 🙂

How do you feel about editing? Do you avoid it like the plague or jump right in?




23 comments on “Editing: Even Our Founding Fathers Did It

  1. Not a fan hence my stall tactics lately. I’d like my work to be held in the same regard as the declaration of independence, but I’d like a little of Jefferson’s editing skills also. I need to channel him or this work isn’t going to get done.

  2. Editing makes your writing more precise and focused. Plus, it helps your readers to avoid finding something you didn’t realize could be misinterpreted or give offense. Fringe benefit: sometimes you find hilarious bloopers caused by typos.

  3. Hi Mike,
    I have been thinking about editing a lot lately. I finally have a finished piece that needed some editing and I was excited about it at first, then I quickly realized that editing is a lot of work. I just wish someone had told me. Writing is the easy part. But, I know it has to be done. As long as the piece is getting better, then it is worth it. Thanks for the post.

  4. I find I need some distance to be able to edit efefctively – so I need to put it down for a while (and I’m talking possibly months here) before I can really look at a piece objectively. Having someone else edit after you is quite enlightening too. There are so many things which are quite obvuious to you, because they come out of your head, but which are not always obvious to others.
    It’s a bit of a grind, but rather like polishing anything else – it takes elbow grease and patience, but hopefully afterwards it will shine!

    • I can see that we share the same sentiments with regard to editing. I almost always need a long time ( which can even last months) to truly see the flaws of my writing. Once an idea comes out of my head, it sticks along with the mistakes that comes with it and I get stuck. Editing is challenging.

  5. Sometimes, I find editing a mundane job; I end up submitting articles without even editing. 😐 Perhaps, I should start editing after writing my papers! I’ve a huge dissertation due in two days (more like 100 pages) and I haven’t even edited it yet and I’ve a feeling that it’ll stay that way. Hahaha!

  6. F**k editing. I’d rather go to CCD. I hate the entire draft process- always have. And the fact that the initial T.J. draft of the D of C was better solidifies my hatred for revision. Those main idea bubble maps in elementary school- F that!

    I especially don’t like revising creative writing. I cannot lie, revisions do lead to better writing sometimes. I guess I crave an art that is less cerebral. Time to finger paint, b**ches.

    • Hahaha!

      Anna, I would have hated it if you revised your comment in any way. 😛

      Finger painting is the best. I haven’t finger painted in two years. Yes, I finger painted when I was 26, but my cover story was my pre-school class.

      I do wonder what we lose when a work is edited. Not the grammar mistakes and typos. I mean whole story threads or ideas (like the original D of C).

  7. I actually love editing. In fact, I have to keep myself from going back and editing my novel from the beginning NOW, because I want to hurry up and finish my novel, THEN go back and edit it from the beginning. Weird, I know.

  8. Editing comes natural to me. I write something, I know it’s not exactly the way I want it said and that it can be done better. When I think on it and work on it I end up with something I can be proud of.

  9. When I write I find the thoughts falling from my mind too quickly to be able to keep up with them. I just let it all fall out on the page and try not to read back through it until it is finished as I feel re-typing on the go changes my focus. Luckily for me English is the second language of my girlfriend who I pass all my work to for grammar and spelling checks. I finally printed my first book last summer and you can read the first chapter free here. http://3arrington.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/free-first-chapter-of-the-waiting-room/

  10. I can’t say much about editing writing, but lot about editing painting, I’m quick to lay the first coats, sometimes after just a few hours, it is there, but getting the little bit more is, to me at least, 3 or 4 times as long as the first ‘draft’; sometimes, I think often it is better, but sometimes it loose its freshness of the start…

  11. William Faulkner said Kill Your Darlings, and I agree.

    I found a post that sums up my thoughts, so rather than plagiarize (perish the thought!) I include the link here:


    Also, I wrote a blog post a while back called Lessons From The Slushpile (when I was volunteering as a slushpile reader at an online literary magazine) and I discussed questions a writer should ask themselves prior to submitting their work. I never come out and say …and therefore you should scrupulously edit, but it is implied.


    Enjoy. 😀

  12. If I knew anything about grammar or punctuation I’d be an editor already lol. Spell check isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, so I just review things myself. Whether or not I’m good at it, I still enjoy proofreading for some odd reason.

  13. I have a love-hate relationship with it. It’s so absolutely necessary to edit 2-3 (or even more) times through a novel, even before handing it to your editor. The hardest part is knowing what to edit for. Once I get into it, I don’t want to stop. Once I stop, I don’t want to start 😛 Nice point on the DoI. We’d be in trouble if that didn’t get edited right!

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